Wednesday, October 12, 2005

More Booker Stuff

Ellis Sharp hasn't actually read The Sea, but that won't stop him suggesting that the anti-Banville brigade have missed the point: "Banville evidently intends to disappoint those readers who think that serious fiction should aspire to the condition of genre fiction, where suspense and characterisation in primary colours is everything." Perhaps. Yet the problem I have with The Sea is not that it challenges expectations but rather that it doesn't. I can live without the trappings of realism, and I'm all for high style, but The Sea remains a listless, lifeless exercise in aesthetic pretension. For all the precision of Banville's vocabulary, the inventiveness of his metaphors, I felt no sensual response. Thematically, the novel is tired and unoriginal. The Sea does not evoke sensation, it does not engage the mind, and these must surely be recognised as valid criticisms even by those who insist that a novel need not entertain.

I also resent the notion - common to a certain breed of literary pundit - that those criticising Banville's win are doing so out of allegiance to some fixed set of "fictional values", to use Sharp's phrase. The stereotype is familiar: the "ordinary reader", that knuckle-dragging simpleton still clinging to the out-dated principles of realism, simply cannot understand genuine literary art. Banville is too much for their heads, the poor duffers. This sort of elitist piffle doubtless does wonders for the ego of those who espouse it, while pre-emptively discounting contrary opinions, which by definition originate in a philistine mindset. If you don't like The Sea, it's not because you judge it (subjectively, of course, but with due consideration) a bad novel, it is because it conflicts with your intransigent middlebrow idea of what comprises good literature.

In response, I suggest that it is perfectly consistent to enjoy the type of prose Banville is aspiring to, and dislike intensely Banville's own efforts. It is also perfectly consistent to enjoy both literature that aspires "to the condition of genre fiction" (sniff), and literature that aims for pure artistry; it is even possible to be mercurial in one's prefererence, depending on the particular books under discussion. I'm certain there are those whose idea of good literature ossified sometime in the late-1800s, but to dismiss all criticism of a book or author as the product of intellectual atavism is to commit snobbery of the worst sort.


Beth has links to all of her Booker reviews, including Zadie Smith's On Beauty.


LadyCracker said...

yes, just checking in to see what you thought of all this. Good.


Lucy Tartan said...

so it's a bit crap then?

Tim said...

Just a bit.